HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Monday, House Republican Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) was officially sworn in for the 2023-24 legislative session. Republicans say Cutler is now the House Majority Leader because of three vacant Democratic seats that were included in 102-101 seat win for Democrats on Nov. 8.
The swearing in of Cutler comes less than a week after Democratic House Leader, Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) was sworn in for the 2023-24 session. After being sworn in last Wednesday, Democrats announced McClinton is the House Majority Leader, the first female to hold the position in the state’s history.
Cutler said the move last week by Democrats leaves him, and his caucus with no other option.
“Last week, Rep. Joanna McClinton and the House Democratic Caucus conducted an unprecedented, illegitimate, and illegal power grab by claiming they have a majority in the Pennsylvania House after one of their members passed away and their quest for political power forced two more of their members to resign, dropping their total of members eligible to take office down to 99,” said Cutler.
For House Democrats, last week’s move appointing McClinton Majority Leader was the will of the people, after Democrats secured 102 seats – enough for a majority – in the Nov. 8 election.
“102 Democrats were elected. There are 102 Democratic districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and until an election changes that, that’s the case,” said House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) last Wednesday.
“That decision was for 102 Democrats to serve here in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” said McClinton on Wednesday.
But after the resignations of Austin Davis and Summer Lee on Wednesday, and the death of Tony DeLuca in Oct., Democrats now have three vacant seats, technically giving Republicans more members for the time being. The crux of the issue is whether the number of seats won on Nov. 8 should count toward the majority, or whether the current number of members in each party should count toward the majority.
Another component of this larger debate is who can or should issue the writs for the three special elections to fill the Democratic vacancies– it’s a task only the Majority Leader can carry out.
“The Majority Leader can issue writs of election. A 101-101 tie is not a majority, and that’s what the Democratic Leader tried to assert. If there is a vacancy, that person doesn’t get to vote and it doesn’t count towards the majority,” said Cutler.
Last week, upon being sworn in, McClinton set Feb. 7 as the date for the elections. But Republicans filed a lawsuit Friday, challenging her ability to make that call. Today, Cutler said it’s a task only he can carry out after the resignations of Lee and Davis.
“In terms of the lawsuit, the question is actually very simple. It’s who has the power to issue the writs? And it’s not somebody who is not in a numerical majority. At 101-to-101, there was no majority. At 101-99, we are the majority. Those writs could only be issued once the seats were vacated,” said Cutler, who plans to issue the writs before Dec. 17. “The current status of the majority was not clear until those two resignations came in, and that clearly tipped the numbers in our favor,” he added.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Press Secretary for the Democratic Leader, Nicole Reigelman, said there is only one reason for Cutler’s swearing-in today and the lawsuit filed Friday.
“There is only one reason for Representative Cutler’s actions today and lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon – to delay and deny nearly 200,000 Pennsylvanians their basic right to representation,” said Reigelman. “As Representative Cutler said himself when choosing February 7 as the date to hold special elections, ‘it is a fundamental obligation of the House to bring about predictability and certainty in representation for Pennsylvanians.’ Attempting to delay these special elections passed that agreed upon day means prolonging the period in which Pennsylvanians are without representation so that Republican leaders can advance extremist policies, in flagrant opposition to the message delivered by Pennsylvanians on Election Day,” Reigelman added.
Litigation over who can issue the writs may push the special elections for the three Democrat-leaning districts in Allegheny County passed Feb. 7. Democrats argue the “House needs to be restored to its full complement without needless delay so the legislature can begin the work it was elected to do.”